The next coronavirus relief package must include funding to safeguard our democracy: Voting by mail and online voting must be considered

An essential component of any “phase four” coronavirus relief and recovery package must be additional investments to protect our right to vote. Lawmakers must act now to establish safe, alternative voting methods—like vote-by-mail and online voting—especially before November’s general election.

The CARES Act included $400 million in “election security grants” to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus domestically for the 2020 federal election cycle. This is far less than fair election advocates argued was necessary to protect our elections during the pandemic. The Brennan Center for Justice, for example, released a plan calling for a $2 billion investment to ensure that the 2020 election is free, fair, accessible, and secure.

As more states explore alternative ways of casting ballots, Congress must provide resources responsive to the magnitude of the challenge. A failure to provide sufficient investments to safeguard elections is the most successful effort at voter suppression and disenfranchisement since the expansion of the franchise. We must demand investment in our democracy infrastructure and more voting options.

While most people think of voter suppression as voter ID laws, felon disenfranchisement, and gerrymandering, our archaic voting system also routinely suppresses votes. As our ancestors have done for hundreds of years, we are required to vote in person, despite many other aspects of our lives being updated to include newer and more convenient methods. We can complete the 2020 Census survey online or by mail. We can order groceries online and have them delivered. We can file our taxes or deposit checks from our smartphones. We can have prescriptions refilled by mail.

Yet, some politicians—like Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin—want us to risk our health in order to have a chance to cast a ballot. It shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic for us to realize that we need more accessible voting methods.

One promising alternative method is a vote-by-mail system. Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah—already conduct their elections through mail. Several voting rights groups have expressed support for a vote-by-mail system for the general election. Democrats included a proposal for a national requirement of 15 days of early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and mailing ballots to all registered voters during an emergency in their relief bill. However, Republicans blocked consideration of the measure.

Online voting must also be considered. While online voting may seem farfetched, it has already been successfully implemented in some U.S. elections. For example, earlier this year, the greater Seattle area held the first election in U.S. history where all voters could cast a ballot by smartphone, while West Virginia has allowed voters living overseas to vote using a mobile app. Given that 81% of Americans own smartphones, studies show that online voting could dramatically increase voter turnout.

So, why have these voting methods not been implemented? The most prevailing and unfounded belief is that these methods are risky and fraudulent. But these methods have already been implemented in various states with no evidence to support a claim of greater risk. Instead, this unsubstantiated narrative has kept Americans with limited voting options, all while voter rolls are purged, long lines form in primary elections during a global pandemic, and economic policies are enacted that do not benefit all Americans.

Some politicians believe it is risky to make voting easier. Last week, President Donald Trump admitted that if voting were easier “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” But it shouldn’t matter which party Americans vote for. What matters is that we have a healthy electorate that represents all Americans.

Congress must include investments in our archaic voting system to make it easier for everyone to participate in our democracy, and funding for a vote-by-mail system and other alternatives must be included in a “phase four” recovery and relief package. A failure to do so amounts to voter suppression.